By STEPHANIE TAYLOR
Until further notice, the hearts of hockey fans will beat a little more slowly.
When the idea first ran through people’s heads, it seemed too far-fetched to be true. But on one gloomy September afternoon, some of their worst nightmares became a reality.
On Sept. 13, Gary Bettman, National Hockey League (NHL) commissioner, announced the current collective bargaining agreement is one that the owners agreed they would not work under. If the NHL’s Player Association (NHLPA) decided to not accept the owners’ offer, the league would enter its third lockout in 20 years.
By the end of Thanksgiving weekend, hope for a season was wearing thin.
“It totally ruins my winter,” Trevor Obrien, 39, a first-year student in the Hotel and Restaurant Management program, says. “Watching hockey on Saturday nights has become a ritual for me and my kids.”
Elisa Piccirillo, 21, a third-year Broadcasting student, from Winona, Ont. says, “Now, through the winter, when you’re coming home from work or school, you have something to look forward to, coming out of the snow and the cold. Now, you have nothing to watch when you look forward to seeing your team compete.”
This lockout isn’t only troublesome to the average person, but also to those who some people hold in high standing. Hockey’s famous father and Lord Mayor of Brantford, Ont., Walter Gretzky finds the lockout to be “so sad.”
While the league and the players are trying to agree on salaries and revenue, Gretzky says it’s neither one of them who are the losers in all of this.
“The fans, the ones who go to the games and support the teams, are the biggest losers.”
Those “losers” are slowly beginning to see the NHL and these meetings for what they truly are.
“You can see that what they make it look like,” Piccirillo says. “It feels like it’s not about the game, it’s not about hockey any more. It’s too much about money. Whether you’re a player or an owner you’re both making more than enough to live a comfortable life, but you’re basically taking away what the fans have been supporting for years just because they are greedy.”
Greed may be the perfect word to describe both sides of this “battle.” While the NHL may be business and a corporation, the game lives in the heart and soul of its true fans, especially Canadians. Now, it seems all that is being discussed is percentages, dollar bills.
It’s about finding an agreement on how much is too much and what is fair.
Out of everything being negotiated between the “millionaires and billionaires,” Obrien says the most important factor the two parties should agree on is when to start the season.
“No fan cares about the business side of the operations.”
While that may be true, some fans, like Piccirillo, see the task at hand.
“Right now they are just talking about everything but the money, and what they really are disagreeing on is the money. So, that’s what they should be talking about. That’s what the most important thing is right now.”
However easy it may seem to some to judge just who may be “at fault,” with thorough research, people may have a slight change of heart.
The 2011-2012 season was one given by chance to the players by the owners and board of directors. The expired agreement was to end one year prior. The players asked the owners to give them one more season before a new agreement would be drawn up.
That agreement was made, and the season went on as planned, leading to the Los Angeles Kings’ Stanley Cup victory.
On July 13, the first offer on the table went to the players. They did not place a counter-offer until 31 days later. Neither was accepted, so meetings and negotiations continued.
As summer came to a close and September reared its ugly head, the meetings became more frequent. More and more people spoke up, especially on behalf of the players’ union. Throughout the summer, it was reported meetings were being held between the executives of the NHL and the players’ executives along with a handful of players. By Sept. 13, many more players had come out in support of their game, to try to come up with the best possible offer to avoid a lockout.
Unfortunately, no agreement was reached. The lockout was made official. This, while it may have been inevitable, wasn’t met with open arms by many fans, if any at all.
Two announcements noted cancellations: one on Sept 19 that noted the pre-season games through Sept 30 were cancelled and the second on Oct. 4, cancelling games during first two weeks of the regular season. The latter hit harder than the first.
Fans, like Piccirillo, feel since the season would not start on its regular start date, the Stanley Cup championship will have a different feel to it.
She says she “feels like it won't be the same and for the team that wins the Stanley Cup. People are always going to look at it as winners who won when the season wasn't full. It’s not going feel like it’s supposed to.”
While players may be locked out of playing for their respective teams, the availability to play in European leagues is open. There are some leagues that will allow NHL players to play on short-term contracts until the lockout ends.
For some players, it gives them the oppourtinity to go home and play for the team they played for prior to joining the NHL. For example, Evgeni Malkin, a centre forward for the Pittsburgh Penguins, went back to Russia to play for the Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
Some players are still finding ways to play hockey wherever they can, while some NHL teams have had to lay off many staff members due to the work stoppage. So far, the Ottawa Senators, the Florida Panthers and the St. Louis Blues have all let some of their staff have a “vacation.”
When the lockout will end? When will an agreement be reached? Views differ with each fan who’s asked. Obrien says he believes the season will begin by January 1, the date of the Winter Classic.
“If not, I’ll watch curling.”